Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Another Environmental Mess: Kauai

An article from the Philly Inquirer has been bugging me since I read it on Sunday. It talks about trash on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.

Here's the meat of the article:

One unpleasant detail (on the island of Kauai) compromised the (otherwise beautiful) scene. A baffling display of ugliness sprawled along the tide line: water bottles, milk crates, fishing buoys, netting, plastic bags, a barrel-sized clump of orange plastic rope, and, scattered everywhere, a fine confetti of broken-up plastic chips.

By any standard, Kauai is remote, thousands of miles from the nearest continent in any direction. Where did this stuff come from?

The answer stunned me. It came from Mexico, the continental United States, Alaska, Taiwan, Japan and China. Some was dumped from recreational and commercial ships, but most of it came from individuals who littered, by the side of the road or on the beach. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, meaning that all the plastic ever made still exists somewhere. A lot of it is floating in the Pacific.

"We're at a juncture of convergence zones that create this massive gyre that collects trash," said Paul Tannenbaum. "Some of it ends up on our beaches."

Marine scientists refer to that gyre Tannenbaum mentioned as the "Great Eastern Garbage Patch" - an oceanic trash pile that's twice the size of Texas, and by one account contains 3 million tons of debris. Slowly circulating currents gradually draw trash dumped off the coasts toward its center.

The main Hawaiian islands and the chain of small islands to their west act like a giant comb at the fringes of the gyre, collecting bits of floating plastic from all over the world, Tannenbaum said.

A garbage patch that's twice the size of Texas? 3 million tons of debris? Those facts just boggle my mind. How sad is it that an otherwise beautiful island in the middle of nowhere serves as a landing spot for the rest of the world's refuse? It's really a sad reflection of what this world's come to.

For more information, check out:

Hawaii’s offshore goldmine? Pacific trash vortex

Giant patch of ocean debris carries ghost nets, trash onto Island shores

Now we just need to figure out how to fix this problem and prevent it from worsening...

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